This just in: the Detroit Tigers are not going to play meaningful games in September and October for a fifth straight year. Instead, this rebuilding team will “play the string out” once again.
Typically, a non-contending team could summon hot prospects from the minors to give them “a cup of coffee” in the big leagues. But new MLB roster rules limit teams to just 28 players after September 1.
Previously, the rules allowed any player from the 40-man roster to be activated on September 1. Many teams would pack their clubhouse with players down the stretch under the old rules. But in 2021, teams won’t have that luxury, which doesn’t bother the manager of the Tigers.
“I’m for a full season having the same rules and the same rosters,” A.J. Hinch told MLive. “I love that we’re getting a couple extra guys that will help us when guys are at the end of their fatigue level. But for me the real baseball is when you’re stressed a little bit with your roster and simply can’t just add guys. I like teams having to fight to the finish line with the team they constructed.”
MLB will allow teams to add a 29th player to the active roster on days when they have a doubleheader, but otherwise the teams must make do with what they have.
What The Smaller Roster Will Mean for the Tigers in September
Even before September 1, the Tigers announced that they would not be calling up players from the minor leagues to fill the two extra roster spots. Instead, they activated a pair of injured players: pitcher Wily Peralta and utility man Niko Goodrum. At 32 and 29 years of age respectively, neither of those players are going to tickle the fancy of fans in the last month of the season.
Seeing as the Tigers have several young starting pitchers, expect to see pitch count controls on them during this month and October. Casey Mize, who has been Detroit’s best pitcher this season, is already being managed so his right arm won’t break under the strain of a long season at the tender age of 24. Tarik Skubal (24 years old) and Matt Manning (23) will also be babied. Which means fans will be treated to more innings from middle-inning relievers.
It also means fans will have to wait at least six months to see Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene in a Detroit uniform. Those two highly-rated prospects earned a promotion to Toledo in August, but they are unlikely to make their MLB debuts this season.
Late-Season Schedule and Fatigue Could Lead to Losses
After the Tigers play the A’s on Thursday in Detroit, they will have just 11 home games the rest of the season. There will be 16 games on the road, ten of them against prospective playoff teams. This weekend the Tigers will go to Cincinnati where the Reds are fighting for their playoff lives. On September 16-19, Detroit will face the Rays in Tampa. The Rays have baseball’s best record, and they will also play three games in Detroit. Those seven games will be tough on the lesser-talented Tigers. To complete the season, Hinch will lead his team to the Windy City for a three-gamer against the mighty White Sox.
It’s possible, given their difficult schedule, that Detroit will lose a lot the last few weeks of the season, There’s also the issue of fatigue: the team has been struggling all year to gel and get to the .500 mark. These last few weeks of Tigers baseball could be tough to watch, but with an eye to the future. As I’ve written previously, the Tigers should be pursuing free agents this offseason.